Should I Hire an Editor to Help Write My Grief Memoir?

In my role as a freelance editor, I see a lot of job posts seeking the assistance of an experienced, professional editor. Many of these are generic job listings from companies looking for SEO experts and fact-checkers, but there are also a fair share of people looking for help on their novels and stories. Since I love interacting with writers, I try to reach out to these folks to either offer my services or-if my schedule is full-at least give a little encouragement and free advice. But I recently saw a job post that made me pause and consider the serious issues that it brought up.

Without revealing any personal details, someone had posted a job for a professional editor in order to get an evaluation and possible edit of a grief-journal that they had kept since losing their spouse about a year earlier. Their hope was to know whether the journal was worth adapting into something that might help readers that were going through a similar traumatic experience. If so, the person would then hire the editor to help facilitate that adaptation.

This concerned me because it was clear from the tone and content of the post that this person was still very emotionally vulnerable on this subject. It was as if the person was seeking some kind of professional validation for their grieving process. The biggest red flag to me was the fact that the person said that while they were interested in seeing their journal adapted for other readers, they were not interested in being personally involved in the process because of how sensitive they still were to the subject matter.

While I applaud this person’s use of writing as one of the tools to deal with their grief, I’m concerned that trying to introduce that tool into any kind of business environment-especially while still feeling sensitive about the subject matter-is incredibly dangerous for their emotional health. While the content of stories and books can be incredibly uplifting and beautiful, the literary and publishing industry itself is often a hostile place, where the rules are all strictly dictated by hard business interests.

To give just one illustrative example, I was once at a writer’s conference where multiple literary agents and publishers were being interviewed about their preferences for book pitches. One woman gave a brief description of a memoir she was writing about dealing with the death of her mother, to which one of the agents replied in the following way:
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to sound harsh, but I see hundreds of dead mother stories every week. Why should I care about yours specifically?” 

It’s also important to consider the difficult situation for an editor in this scenario. Consider the inner struggle they would have to deal with as they were repeatedly forced to choose between what might make the piece read better versus the author’s needs to keep their therapeutic tool intact. In my experience, one of the hardest situations for an editor is when the client has become too emotionally attached to the piece to view it subjectively. That’s difficult enough when the piece is a fictional story, let alone a journal that was originally intended for private use only.

So what would I suggest that this person do? Well, that depends on one question: are they willing to wait to adapt their journal until after they have fully come to terms with their own grief? If so, then they should allow the months, years, or even decades that it will take before they are able to evaluate and analyze this period of their life subjectively. Not only will this remove the risk of compromising their emotional healing by pushing themselves too fast, it will also make them much more effective in helping other people, looking back on their grief with wisdom and insight that they simply didn’t have while in the midst of it.

But what if the person feels that sharing their experience while it is still happening is essential to both their own recovery and their ability to immediately empathize with their readers? Well, in that case, the person shouldn’t be wasting time and money getting professional validation and polishing. If it’s important to share the experience as it is happening, then I strongly suggest posting it as an ongoing blog, vlog, or similar format for public consumption without bothering to hire a professional editor beforehand. This will bypass the potentially awkward issues of the financial world and go straight to a relationship between the author and their audience. Of course, if the author is concerned about the piece being too rough, they might consider asking someone they trust to proofread it beforehand, though I suspect that their intended audience will forgive the roughness of the presentation if they choose a more informal format. 

Of course, everyone’s road to emotional health is different, and we all grieve in different ways. Just be careful of seeking any kind of emotional validation from an industry that is primarily concerned with the business of creating and selling products to consumers.

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